Tips on How to Transition Your Brick and Mortar Clients Online

brick and mortar

COVID-19 is changing the way your clients run their businesses. With social distancing policies in place, many brick and mortar shops are shutting their doors and considering new ways of working. For many, this means transitioning to ecommerce. 

As a Shopify Partner, you are uniquely positioned to help them through this. By acting as a trusted partner and guide, you can help your clients move quickly, navigate the transition to ecommerce, and find success in the online environment.

In this article, we look at how you can help your clients survive and ultimately thrive in this new commerce reality. Here’s what to consider as you help move your clients' brick and mortar businesses online, fast.

How to manage clients who are new to ecommerce

It’s not “business as usual” for anyone right now, especially traditional retail merchants who are concerned about the future of their businesses. Managing your clients from onboarding to launch in this environment may require a slightly different approach—instead of working with a client who is full of excitement because their business is growing, they may instead be nervous, anxious, and stressed about the future.

A quick and empathetic client onboarding process will help your clients not only give you the information you need to build and create for them, but will also help establish a level of trust. Setting and managing client expectations during onboarding is arguably the most critical phase of your partnership.

What your client needs right now ultimately depends on what type of business they run, but there are a few key onboarding strategies that will help you transition a traditional brick and mortar business online as smoothly as possible.

1. Address any concerns about shifting their brick and mortar business online

Learn what stopped your client from taking their business online before COVID-19 and address those concerns or obstacles as part of your onboarding process. Their reasons could be anything from being more interested in working in their business than on their business, to feeling that they aren’t very tech savvy. 

Addressing these concerns early in the process of working together can help you pinpoint any areas where you may need to educate your client more or where you may need to have more patience.

Delving deep in this type of conversation is critical to project success, Josiah Hubbard, founder of digital agency Argon Development, says. 

“Being a Shopify Partner is actually a very good place to be right now because we’re in the digital space,” Josiah says. “A lot of merchants aren’t, and putting yourself in their shoes is the first step to begin to truly help.”

By identifying your client’s concerns early on, you’ll learn about any underlying perceptions they have. Knowing this will help you help them make a more seamless pivot. 

You might also like: How Shopify Partners are Responding to COVID-19.

2. Keep it simple when speed is key

Work with your client to identify their bestselling products and focus on getting those online first. They may have a full catalogue or inventory they want to sell, and might insist that each item is important. If this happens, encourage them to consider the Pareto principle, also known as the “80/20 rule,” where 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of the efforts. In this case, 20 percent of your client’s inventory could generate 80 percent of their revenue.

Josiah says that your clients may also overestimate what features they need to launch their online store quickly. But keep it simple when speed is key. 

“A lot of the brick and mortar stores in my area don’t need a fancy third-party logistics integration for order fulfillment and shipping; they just need a point-of-sale that works and a site that people can buy from,” Josiah says. “Keep it simple.”

A lot of the brick and mortar stores in my area don’t need a fancy third-party logistics integration for order fulfillment and shipping; they just need a point-of-sale that works and a site that people can buy from. Keep it simple.

Josiah Hubbard

Getting good work online quickly is better than delaying to make your client’s online store look perfect. Develop “quick launch” plans for new merchants that include an option to revisit their website after a period of time (e.g. three months) to conduct an audit and optimize. This allows you and your client to launch their store quickly, and refine the approach later.

Maya Page, Creative Director of the full-service Shopify web design agency The Chicago Web Co. says you shouldn’t let something small or easily editable keep you from going live.

“Everyone wants to have the perfect aesthetic, but right now, sales and customer service are more important than having the perfect layout,” Maya adds. “Launch, and then continue editing while you’re open for sales.”

You might also like: Feature Creep: What Causes It and How to Avoid It.

But while speed is key, remember that due diligence is king. Once you understand your client’s needs and goals, you both need to approve and sign off on the timeline and deliverables in a simple and straightforward contract. That way, you have something you both can reference at the end of a project, Josiah explains.

“Before anything happens on the computer, you need to sit down with the merchant and ask as many pertinent questions as you can to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. Ask the merchant often if there’s anything else you need to know,” he adds.

From Josiah’s experience, going live fast often means concessions need to be made on the merchant’s end. Be honest with your client if anything on their website wish list isn’t practical and won't help solve their immediate needs faster. If you have the bandwidth to help with more advanced functionality that your client may not need right now, let them know you can roll it in at a later date.

Managing your client’s expectations about what they want, what they need, and what you can deliver will ensure both you and your client are on the same page as you work together.

brick and mortar: meeting with whiteboard

3. Lead by example by setting the communication tone

When clients are stressed and anxious, it’s natural to empathize or even mirror their actions and tone. Create a strong foundation of open and clear communication by using plain language while keeping your tone upbeat.

Now more than ever, it’s important to explain terms, concepts, and strategies that we think are common knowledge—especially to clients who are brand new to ecommerce. Developing your emotional intelligence to demonstrate active listening, empathy, and leadership, especially in this time of extreme uncertainty, will go a long way in building strong connections with your clients.

“Be positive and hopeful—the move from brick and mortar to online is a scary leap for retailers at the best of times, and they will really be leaning on you for your guidance and knowledge,” says Shopify Partnerships Manager Samantha Mundell. “If possible, try to share some success stories from other businesses you have worked on.”

Be positive and hopeful—the move from brick and mortar to online is a scary leap for retailers at the best of times, and they will really be leaning on you for your guidance and knowledge.

Samantha Mundell

Set healthy communication boundaries from the beginning by letting your client know when and how they can reach you. Recommend that they “batch” their questions by compiling them into a list as they think of them, and have them share them all in one email or during your next scheduled call. This will help you focus and save you from constant emails or phone calls.

You might also like: 3 Keys to Effective Remote Management for UX Designers.

4. Learn how to collaborate with your client remotely

As more places embrace physical distancing measures in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19, it’s highly likely that you will be communicating and collaborating with your client 100 percent remotely.

If your team is now learning how to work remotely, many strategies that already help your team work together smoothly will also help strengthen your relationship with your client.

“The quicker you get your client on a video call, the better,” Natasha Murphy, principal developer and founder of digital design agency Nicely Built says. “We used to host Zoom calls with 80 percent of our clients, and now that’s up to 100 percent. It’s important to be able to put a face to the name, for both you and your client.”

Working remotely is also an opportunity to introduce your client to online communities, forums, and groups where they can share their experiences with merchants who are going through something similar. Here are just a few groups your new-to-ecommerce clients can join to help them get started:

Think of creative ways to leverage remote collaboration to educate and solve client problems. For example, if you have several clients who are transitioning their brick and mortar businesses to an online store at the same time, consider organizing a virtual hangout with them to walk through their problems and questions together.

It’s also important to be reliable and build trust with someone you may have never met in person before. Try being more hands on than you may normally be with new clients. Share video messages instead of emails where possible, book more regular check-ins or project status updates, and look at creating or sharing video tutorials for tasks the client will need for day-to-day operations. Here are a few helpful Shopify resources you can share with your client to get them started:

You might also like: How to Build Strong Relationships with Clients in Another Time Zone.

Disrupt and explore: What else can your client sell and how should they sell?

It may take some time to show your clients that creating an online shopping experience is very different from selling through a brick and mortar storefront. Since online customer behavior has its own customer journeys and experiences, your client’s online store should adapt to meet those different needs.

Michael Lisovetsky, cofounder of integrated digital marketing agency JUICE, says it’s important for you and your clients to think creatively about what kind of shift they need to make to stay in business now that their industries have been disrupted.

“Every company and every industry will vary, so it all depends on what the industry could bring,” Michael says.

Ethical skincare company LOLI Beauty was able to take its raw materials and create a hand cleanser out of them, opening up a new channel of revenue and better serving its customers. 

“Overall, we're seeing brands apply their own unique twist to make the best of the situation,” Michael says.

brick and mortar: birds eye view of a woman holding a tablet

When you share how other merchants are pivoting their business models, adapting product lines, or adding revenue channels, you can help your clients come up with new ways to keep income flowing. Experimentation and disruptive thinking changes how you look at the problem and move forward.

Maya from The Chicago Web Co. says creatively blending two seemingly different industries can make a big difference in attracting new customers online. 

“One of our favorite coffee shops would sell CBD oil with their coffee. In this uncertain time, we could all use a little more ‘calm’ in our lives, so we suggested why not sell it online and offer free shipping? It is an additional stream of income with very little set-up cost—they already have the bottles of CBD and would just need to purchase shipping supplies. They could be up and running fairly quickly,” she says.

Below are some important tips and strategies you can share with your clients to help them decide how to best restructure or pivot when their business models don’t seamlessly transition from brick and mortar to online.

1. Consider new sales channels and apps

Help your client reimagine their business by considering new sales channels and apps they can integrate into their online store. Even if they were solely a brick and mortar merchant before now, chances are good that they were using different digital channels, such as email and social media, to market their products or services. Integrating apps to your client’s existing and new sales and marketing channels will help them create a seamless shopping experience for their customers.

Connecting all appropriate avenues and channels available to your client’s online store lets their customers know that they are still operating during these times, and what new products or virtual or digital services they are now providing. It also helps your client monetize these channels in a way they may not have considered before, and create a more unified customer experience and sales funnel.

If you’re not building a custom app for your client, you can find four new app categories on the Shopify App Store homepage, curated specifically to address merchant pain points as they make the transition from brick and mortar to ecommerce:

You might also like: 4 Easy Ways to Deploy Your Website or App.

2. Consider offering digital gift cards

The gift card feature is now available on all Shopify plans indefinitely as a way for merchants to keep cash flowing despite decreases in sales. Your client’s customers can purchase a digital gift card to redeem when your client is ready to fulfill orders, ship products, or provide services again.

Offering gift cards is a quick and simple way to revive your client’s business as they transition to a digital storefront. Enabling gift cards on a Shopify store takes less than 30 minutes (and that’s when your client is starting from scratch), so it’s a quick and effective win.

JUICE client BeautyFix is a medspa that uses Shopify to sell its services online. While COVID-19 caused the company to close its physical locations, Michael and his team worked with BeautyFix to focus on offering gift cards on newly discounted services that customers can redeem when they’re able to reopen.

“BeautyFix is leveraging its ecommerce presence to carry on,” Michael says.

3. Consider adding subscription-based products

brick and mortar: subscription box
Keep Your City Smiling offers subscription gift boxes that support struggling local businesses.

Adding subscription boxes to your client’s product offerings is a great way for merchants to boost recurring revenue. It helps create a new product experience to keep your client’s customers engaged with their brand, even if social distancing keeps them out of your client’s physical store.

Josiah from Argon Development has seen the positive impact introducing this kind of product can have on a merchant’s business. Josiah helped his client, events services company The SnapBar, quickly pivot their entire business model to subscription boxes when the fallout from COVID-19 forced the company to find a new way to stay in business.

The SnapBar rents photo booths and selfie stations at live events, and experienced mass cancellations of events and stalled sales. In an effort to keep The SnapBar—and other small businesses—afloat, Keep Your City Smiling was born. The business now collaborates with local Seattle businesses to create and sell gift boxes filled with local artisanal products, and is soon expanding to more cities, including Portland, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

The SnapBar team is already quite tech-savvy, so Josiah offered guidance and support as they set up their own shop for Keep Your City Smiling.

“After the initial setup, I walked through their theme on mobile and desktop and gave them key pointers on content to help consumers understand more about the product and who it’s for,” Josiah says. 

“We also discussed navigation links for businesses (businesses that may want to send a box to each of their team members for instance) vs. standard consumers who want to support local businesses in their area. I also set them up with a third-party app that allows them to offer a personalized note to each order. That was a very nice touch for this type of thing.”

If your brick and mortar client is brand new to ecommerce, or is pivoting their business model, they may want to start small by offering subscription boxes to their local area. 

Consider also adding pre-order functionality before a new subscription-based product line launches on your client’s online store. That way your client can gain a sense of the current demand for their subscription-based product line, and know how much inventory they need at launch. If you’re not building a custom pre-order app for your client, you can choose the right shipping and pre-orders app in the Shopify App Store. 

4. Consider offering “buy online, pickup curbside”

Delivery options can be one of the trickiest decisions your client has to make, especially if they offer services or consumable products, like specialty food products, alcohol, and coffee. Social distancing policies complicate delivery and pickup, as recommendations vary by region and are updated regularly.

"Social distancing policies complicate delivery and pickup, as recommendations vary by region and are updated regularly."

It’s important to stay informed about what’s allowed in the area where your client operates. Help your client build out a marketing strategy that includes a “buy online, pickup curbside” experience, or contactless delivery if it’s possible in your region. It can make all the difference in your client’s business survival and long-term success.

Mark Perini, founder of ICEE Social, helped his client Danielle Sepsy evolve her side-hustle baking and catering business into a full-time business. 

Danielle had been selling her mouthwatering scones in markets and coffee shops around New York City and was ready to take her popular business, The Hungry Gnome, to the next level. She had already tapped Mark and ICEE Social to make her website shoppable when COVID-19 hit and everything stopped. 

“Luckily we’d just launched the online store. She's had orders every single day since we launched,” Mark says. 

The Hungry Gnome has been able to keep up with this demand through contactless curbside pickup and gloved delivery. They also run bi-monthly product releases and contests, and offer gift cards for future food markets. Combined, these tactics are the perfect recipe for merchant success.

Enabling buy online, pickup curbside or a delivery service can be as simple as installing an app on your client’s online store. Natasha Murphy of Nicely Built says her team has recently installed delivery apps on several clients’ online stores.

“We’ve been helping our clients modify their existing stores on the fly as a response to these evolving circumstances,” she says.

Educating and supporting your client beyond launch 

Taking the time to educate your client on their next steps and providing additional resources can make all the difference between your client succeeding for the long term or giving up under the pressure. Educating and supporting your client beyond launch also shows clients that you have their back—you want them to succeed.

Any further education and support you offer will be unique to your client and your services, whether you’re working as an agency team, or as a freelance designer or developer. Here are just a few easy ways you can continue to educate and support your clients post-launch.

1. Keep in touch

brick and mortar: woman holding a phone

Once your client’s new online store has launched, keep in touch. Building and maintaining relationships will make all the difference in your client’s long-term success and whether they choose to hire you again for future work. If you’re a fan of the products they sell, you could even buy a gift card or promote the launch of their new store on social media or within your newsletter to your own community.

Natasha Murphy and her team at Nicely Built will periodically do roundups of their client roster on their website’s gallery page with links to their clients’ stores, and share it on social media.

“We’ll share it on Instagram and Facebook so that we can hopefully introduce people stuck at home to new brands,” Natasha says.

Nicely Built tries to add all their clients to their newsletter but they also have an internal marketing strategy where they reach out to all their clients throughout the year. Promoting their clients’ businesses is a great opportunity to reconnect with former clients as well.

“We recently took that as an opportunity to email everyone that was included in the roundup and say, ‘Hey! Hope you’re staying sane during this time. We wanted to let you know that we included your store in our online curated shops posts. We’re really thinking of you now. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything,’” Natasha explains.

Every few months, Nicely Built’s customer success manager and administrative assistant will review the mega-spreadsheet of their client list and reach out directly.

“Since we email manually instead of automating our outreach, I can always trust that whichever teammate is assigned to that correspondence is going to do a really good job gauging the client’s needs or emotional response so we can respond appropriately,” Natasha says.

2. Create a post-launch care package

You could also consider creating a more comprehensive care package for merchants when the store is handed off, including Shopify resources such as:

Before the project handoff is complete, Natasha and her team at Nicely Built do an intense training session with each one of their clients and record it using Zoom. They give each client the link to the recording, which is custom to their store.

“People really like that we record our training session. That’s the easiest for us, as well, because we can always direct our clients back to that video recording if they have questions or need a refresher,” Natasha says.

People really like that we record our training session. That’s the easiest for us, as well, because we can always direct our clients back to that video recording if they have questions or need a refresher.

Natasha Murphy

 Maya from The Chicago Web Co. says it’s important to remember the learning curve is often steep for merchants who are new to ecommerce. 

“We try to make the transition as easy as possible by offering access to help docs and doing a live training webinar where we go through test scenarios,” Maya says. “We want our clients to feel like they have a partner in all of this—and by going local, we’re able to help even further by being familiar with their businesses.”

Maya’s team has also extended their 30-day post-launch support to 90 days, where their clients are welcome to reach out and ask questions.

Creating and sharing a post-launch care package celebrates the launch of your client’s transition from brick and mortar to online and helps your client feel supported long after your work is done.

You might also like: The Power of Partnerships: How to do Right by Your Clients and Make Money in the Process.

Online stores are the new brick and mortar

While you’re moving quickly to transition your client’s brick and mortar business online, it may take some time for their sales to gain traction and recover. The commerce landscape is changing at a rapid pace, and we all have to adjust and adapt. That’s exactly what you’re helping your client to do.

“Hang in there. Seriously. Tell your merchants this, tell yourself this. Storms of life happen, sometimes more often and extreme than others, but a storm always passes,” Josiah says. “There will be an end to this period, so do the best possible work you can and when the dust settles you will be better off for it, and the people you help will be better off as well. They won’t soon forget it.”

While the door to your client’s brick and mortar store may have closed for now, with your help, their online store is officially open for business. And with a little time, support, and tweaking, your client’s online store may become their reimagined brick and mortar business.

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